No injuries or damage were reported.
Dan Davis, a geology professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island, said the earthquake began at 7:34 a.m. and lasted a few seconds.
Jim Donaghy was shaving inside his Upper East Side apartment when he felt a boom, followed by a slight shaking.
"You know those big construction Dumpsters they use when doing work on a building? It sounded like someone dropped one of those," Donaghy said. "That's what I thought it was."
The rattling could be felt as far away as Newark, 13 miles to the south.
Davis said earthquakes are not rare in the densely populated area. He said the last significant quake was a 4.0 tremor in 1985 in a Westchester County suburb, about 15 miles north of New York.
Standing in front of a building where residents reported "significant shaking," Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said there was no need for New Yorkers to worry because even a more powerful earthquake, magnitude 4 or 5, "would not have an impact on large buildings."
Donaghy, who once experienced a magnitude 4.0 earthquake in Los Angeles, said the incident left him curious but otherwise unfazed.
"This is New York," Donaghy said. "You sort of get used to having a lot of crazy things happening around you."
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